Performance artist walks old icon into the digital age
by Kyle Murphy & Elizabeth R. Stark
Peaceful protest has never been so bizarre.
But performance artist Joseph DeLappe found solace as he walked 240 miles over three weeks through a virtual landscape filled with baby dragons, faux versions of Paris, and yes, a Nazi paraphernalia shop.
DeLappe performed the walk on an ancient-looking treadmill hooked up to “Second Life,” an online virtual world. While walking on the treadmill, he faced a large computer screen with a keyboard at the ready.
As DeLappe banged away at his keys, an animated version of Mohandas Gandhi, called an “avatar” walked gently across the digital landscape.
Many people “make an avatar that is a 6-foot-tall Amazon woman with gigantic breasts,” DeLappe said. “Why not something that is meaningful and humorous at the same time?”
As a fellow at the Eyebeam Gallery in Chelsea, which specializes in new media art, DeLappe and others have performed extensively online. His work brings the seriousness of political protest to online games, where hijinks and unfettered fantasy usually reign supreme.
DeLappe walked to re-enact Gandhi’s 1930 salt march to Dandi in India. Gandhi walked 240 miles across his country over three weeks to protest British imperial rule and to assert the right of all Indians to harvest salt. Joined by thousands of his countrymen, the real Gandhi’s protest helped steer India toward independence.
While Gandhi walked to protest British imperialism, DeLappe walked to examine Gandhi’s protest and “experience some part of what it was like.”
Joanna Raczkiewicz, the development manager of Eyebeam, said that DeLappe’s work is important because “contemporary art is a window into contemporary culture” and because DeLappe is pushing the boundaries of Second Life.
Engaging his body altered DeLappe’s mental space. “I thought I would get bored,” he said, “but the sense of discovery and physically earning that experience” helped hold his interest.
DeLappe dreamed about Second Life and had flash backs to the virtual world. When “MGandhi” – the name of DeLappe’s virtual avatar – walked up steep cliffs, DeLappe pumped his arms and moved his legs faster, as if he was walking up a hill. Ironically, there was no change in resistance on the machine.
The machine, itself, is simple: